Defense Aids Devils to Humble Huskers

The notion of the defense fueling the offense was the mantra of the Sun Devils coming into this season. It materialized to be a recurring theme so far in the 2008-09 campaign, and ASU's 64-44 rout of Nebraska was just one more example and ultimately bailed out a somewhat sputtering offense in the first half.

Rihards Kuksiks scored the first basket for Arizona State (7-1), but it took nearly three minutes for that to take place. Even though Nebraska (6-1) was held scoreless for the first five minutes, the all-guard lineup led 9-4 at the 12:30 mark thanks to some sharp shooting beyond the arc.

"I think obviously the difference for us was our defense," said head coach Herb Sendek. "I think it really started with (ASU assistant) Coach Pera who had the scout, as did the rest of our assistant coaching staff. They really had the guys prepared and ready to go on the defensive end.

"Even when we weren't scoring at the beginning of both halves, we didn't allow that to carry over to the defensive end of the floor. We allowed ourselves to hang around until our offense got going a little bit."

Back to back three pointers by Ty Abbott brought the maroon and gold back and tied the game at 16 apiece with 5:42 left in the half. A 14-2 Sun Devil run to end the first stanza didn't demoralize the visitors who scored 11 points in the first six minutes of the second half.

"They're a different kind of team to play," commented Sendek about the Nebraska defense. "They really force you to be extremely sharp and strong with the ball. They have a relatively unconventional style when they're pressing…they'll run and pounce on dribblers. They really run hard at shooters and take you off your shot."

ASU used another big run, 11-2, to push the lead back to double digits as they held a 43-27 advantage with 8:23 remaining in the contest. The Sun Devil defense did let up down the stretch, but it was certainly not enough on a day where ASU limited the visitors to 28.9% shooting from the field.

"We remember what they did to us last year," said James Harden in reference to the 62-47 Nebraska win over the Sun Devils. "So we came out with some aggressiveness, motivation, and execution."

Coming off a career-high in points scored. Kuksiks repeated the feat pouring in 18, and adding another career high six rebounds. Harden, who didn't score a field goal until 46 seconds left in the half, had 20 points to go along with nine boards and team-high six assists. Abbott had 15 points and eight rebounds on the afternoon.

As expected ASU held a decisive advantage on the glass, 37-25 and gave up just three offensive rebounds. Jeff Pendergraph was held to four points but did pull down ten caroms.

"A number of times Jeff got out to shooters," said Sendek. "He had a presence at the basket that saved our defense. He easily could have had a few more (points). He had a couple of shots that normally go down for him.

"On the other hand when he did catch it, what they would do is send two, three defenders so he would kick it out to an open man. Very similar to what James (Harden) does on the perimeter; Jeff was doing in the post."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories